Packers have depth, versatility at safety in Jones
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Josh Jones is listed as a safety on the Green Bay Packers roster, though he eventually he might be better known as a jack-of-all-trades player.
The hard-hitting rookie drafted in the second round has left a strong impression so far in training camp, showing the potential to contribute quickly at an already strong position.
There are safeties in numbers in Green Bay, giving coach Mike McCarthy the kind of depth and flexibility needed to keep up with pass-oriented or spread offenses.
“I mean it definitely fits my skill set. I can do a lot of things for a defense,” said Jones, who had 229 tackles and eight interceptions over three seasons at North Carolina State. “I don’t put a limit on what I can do as a football player.”
There might be limits, though, to how much playing time he will get as a rookie. Strong safety Morgan Burnett and free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who made his first Pro Bowl last year, are the unquestioned starters.
Micah Hyde left in the offseason to sign with Buffalo, but coaches like what second-year player Kentrell Brice has done in camp. Brice and fellow safety Marwin Evans were the only rookie free agents to play in all 16 Packers regular-season games and three postseason contests last year.
Hyde’s value came in lining up at various positions. Sometimes, when Burnett was used more like an inside linebacker in early-down situations, Hyde would play a more traditional safety role. Hyde could cover the slot receiver. He could line up wide when the cornerback position was decimated by injuries.
It’s a versatile role that Brice or Jones could be slated to fill. Jones might also be used at times like the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Burnett, as a defender closer to the line more adept at covering receivers than a traditional inside linebacker.
“So the ability of those guys to play the nickel, the dime, the sub linebacker and free safety, strong safety, that speaks volumes. Morgan does that,” McCarthy said. “That body type, that position, the importance of the safety position I think is critical to the way you need to play defense in today’s NFL.”
Safety was a problem area for the Packers not long ago. Clinton-Dix has become a core player after being drafted by the Packers in the first round in 2014, filling what was then a critical need.
Burnett is an important piece in the Packers’ evolution into becoming more flexible. Once primarily a 3-4 defense, the Packers have gone with five defensive backs more often on early downs to better match up with offenses. It’s called a “nitro” package when Burnett is in the box playing more of a linebacker role.
“Everyone in the room is capable of doing the same thing, doing each other’s job,” said Burnett, entering his NFL eighth season.
Jones is listed at the backup to Burnett on the depth chart going into the preseason opener Thursday against Philadelphia. Cornerback Davon House has described Burnett as a “thumper,” and the rookie out of North Carolina State has a stoic demeanor that backs up his early reputation as a hitter.
“I come to work, a blue-collar type of dude,” Jones said. “I want it the hard way, and that’s what I do, I just play football.”
NOTES: McCarthy said before practice Tuesday that the Packers haven’t determined yet how much playing time to give QB Aaron Rodgers in the preseason. The two-time NFL MVP is entering his 13th season and 10th as the starter. … Backup QB Brett Hundley appears likely to get the start against Philadelphia. McCarthy said coaches will determine playing time at a meeting Wednesday. … CB House (hamstring) was considered day to day, though McCarthy said he had “no long-term concern” about the injury.